How to Keep Higher-Mileage Vehicles in Service
Since the recession hit, Veit, a construction company headquartered in Rogers, Minn., now runs its vehicles to 200,000 miles.
In 2008 and 2009, when fleets were feeling the squeeze of the Great Recession, many companies had no choice but to keep their vehicles in service longer than they had before. This business decision brought closer attention to servicing and maintenance.
Over time, fleet managers realized they could comfortably keep higher-mileage vehicles in service, as long as they followed certain guidelines for maintenance and parts replacement.
These fleet managers regularly run their trucks and vans to more than 200,000 miles by incorporating fanatical preventive maintenance, preemptive parts replacement, driver accountability and corporate pride. And they make sure to stick to their plan.
Instilling Pride of Ownership
Veit, a construction company headquartered in Rogers, Minn., used to run its vehicles to 100,000 to 150,000 miles before retiring them, but when the recession hit, the company made the business choice to run to 200,000 miles.
“In doing that, the [maintenance] costs didn’t change much from 150,000 to 200,000 miles,” says Don Emmel, Veit’s fleet manager. Today, with few exceptions, “I won’t retire anything unless it gets to 200,000 miles,” he says, while a handful of vehicles have passed the 300,000-mile mark.
Emmel has found some fleets lose focus on maintenance once a vehicle reaches 100,000 miles because they think they might be ready to get rid of them. “Never change the focus,” Emmel says. “Plan on your vehicles making it to 300,000 miles and stay with the maintenance plan.”
Veit’s fleet consists mainly of half-ton, ¾-ton and one-ton pickups. About 80% of the fleet consists of General Motors vehicles (Silverado and Silverado HDs) while the rest are Fords. Emmel says that improvements in GM’s trucks with the 2010 model year have cut his unscheduled maintenance costs considerably.
Veit’s high-mileage strategy starts with strict preventive maintenance. Oil and filter changes are done at 5,000 miles instead of the manufacturer’s recommended intervals of 7,000 and 10,000 miles. While the full synthetic oil isn’t breaking down, Veit has found that the oil filters are reaching capacity with contamination due to heavy job site use.
Emmel extends this strict schedule to transmission service, which is performed at 30,000 miles and 50,000 miles instead of the recommended 70,000 miles and 100,000 miles. By cutting that interval in half, “I have not had one transmission failure in five years,” Emmel says.
Based on experience, Emmel changes some parts preemptively. For instance, if a one-wheel bearing fails at 70,000 miles, he’ll change the others. “If we skimp on putting on that $150 wheel bearing, the downtime and cost on the road can exceed $1,200 or more,” he says.
Working a service area covering five Midwestern states, Veit’s fleet does not return to a centralized base, so Emmel has to rely on his drivers to bring the vehicles in for maintenance. This makes the company’s top-down “pride of ownership” philosophy all the more important. “When I hand them the truck, I tell them you have to take care of it like it’s your own,” Emmel says.
The company approves ordering trucks with driver perks such as chrome packages, power seats and better stereos. Drivers have been known to post photos of their trucks to Facebook, as well as call out other drivers who keep a sloppy truck. “Let them know they’re being taken care of,” Emmel says, “and they’ll take care of the truck.”
Sampling Oil Predicts Failures
Serving the Southwest, Meadow Valley Contractors runs its fleet of ¾- and one-ton Dodge and Ford pickups as high as 250,000 to 300,000 miles. The trucks, from model years 2004 to 2008, rack up the miles at an average of 30,000 to 35,000 miles per year.
Fleet manager Voy Matheson has been impressed with the trucks’ performance, even with heavy-duty construction use. “The 2006 trucks were bought at the beginning of the [economic] crunch,” Matheson says. “The economy was a factor in running them for a longer time, but it was [also] cost-effective to keep running them, because we weren’t having many problems.”